Clown finds passion in costume shop

Nick Wilkins stands in his store, “Balloon-A-Gram,” on Tuesday. Wilkins offers a large supply of costumes available for sale and rent, including clown outfits, Elvis outfits and classic, scary masks and outfits. When he’s not manning his store, Wilkins keeps busy with hundreds of clowning performances that he books throughout the year. Nick Wagner/HERALD

Whitney Allen

passion for magic, costumes and all things clown groomed Bowling Green local Nick Wilkins for a career in costuming. Wilkins, also known as Broadway the Clown, owns Balloon-a-Gram Company. 

The little shop on 31-W is packed tight with over 2,000 costumes. Costumes include the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Simpsons, Bert and Ernie and Disney characters. 

While the store’s vast collection is boastful, Balloon-a-Gram originated from much humbler beginnings. 

Wilkins, a WKU alumnus, has always had a passion for entertainment. His father worked as a magician, and from Wilkins’ childhood all the way through college he assisted his dad. His work with his father, Wandi the Magician, helped Wilkins pay his way through college. 

After completing college, Wilkins was accepted to clown college and worked as a clown in Circus World, part of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. After several years in the circus, Wilkins returned to Bowling Green.

“This business started as a concept from an English professor at Western who was a friend of mine, and another friend,” Wilkins said. “They said ‘why don’t you start a balloon business?’”

So he did, and Balloon-a-Gram was born in 1980.

“I started this business, which I’m very proud of, on a $500 investment,” Wilkins said. 

In the beginning, Wilkins delivered balloons, but since its opening, the little shop has broadened its horizons.

“I’ve just learned to go different avenues within the business,” Wilkins said. 

Bowling Green local and Balloon-a-Gram employee Shane Roberson marks this year as his second Halloween working for Wilkins. 

“This is definitely the coolest job I’ve ever had,” Roberson said. “I just like the atmosphere.” 

The atmosphere is one of variety in the entertainment business, encompassing the numerous avenues Wilkins has pursued. Customers can rent or buy nearly any of  Wilkins’ costumes, including wigs. The store also offers face painting, party balloon decorating, balloon sculptures, inflatables and party entertainment including clowns or magic shows. 

With Halloween approaching, Wilkins is expecting business to pick up. Some customers may begin costume shopping in September, but the majority of Halloween costume shoppers are last minute, Wilkins said. 

“It’s just a last minute deal, people don’t plan that much,” Wilkins said. “I think a lot of it might be they like the spontaneity… they like it and they get it and they go.”

College students are among those last-minute Halloween shoppers.

“If I were to ever move or start a business somewhere else I would always do it in a college town, especially this type of business, you get a lot of college trade,” Wilkins said.  

In addition to college-aged customers, the shop also provides face painting and balloons for every home WKU football game.

Wilkins has also provided balloons for presidential visits from Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.

While costumes may be everywhere this time of year, Wilkins prides himself in the personalization of Balloon-a-Gram. If there’s a costume a customer is searching for that Wilkins doesn’t have, he can help create the costume from the accessories and costumes already in store. 

On average, a costume rental costs anywhere from $25 to $35. 

Wilkins said positive feedback is a huge business motivator.

“It’s just a good feeling when people come in and bring their costume back and go ‘hey, I won first place,’” Wilkins said.